Why SEO is Essential During a Website Redesign
Picture this: You've just opened a brand-new store, filled to the brim with products you're certain people will love.
The only catch?
Your store is tucked away in an alley, nearly invisible to passersby. That's what it's like to have a website without considering Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO, dear reader, is your golden ticket to visibility in the vast digital marketplace.
Prefer to watch a video on the topic?
It's the art and science of making your website attractive to the algorithms of search engines (primarily Google). It’s the equivalent of moving your store from that hidden alley to a bustling main street, where potential customers can easily find you.
Now, imagine doing a complete makeover of your store, making it more appealing, more navigable—only to find out that you’ve moved further down the alley.
That's precisely the risk you run when you redesign your website without considering SEO.
A well-designed website is not just about aesthetics; it's about being found. It's about ensuring that each page, each piece of content, serves as a beacon, drawing in visitors from the vast expanse of the internet.
The world of SEO is ever-changing, and your website needs to keep pace. This means that when you're planning a website redesign, SEO isn't just a box to be checked—it's a critical component that should shape your redesign strategy from the ground up.
So, come along on this journey as we peel back the layers of SEO during a website redesign. Let's move your store out of the alley and onto the main street, where it truly belongs. The road ahead is clear, and the rewards are plentiful. Buckle up, and let's dive in!
The Redesign SEO Checklist
404 Error Pages: Why to Fix Them, and How
Picture this: You're in a vast library, searching for a particular book. You find its location in the catalog, but when you reach the shelf, it's empty.
How would you feel?
Well, that's exactly how your website visitors feel when encountering a 404-error page.
But what is a 404 error?
A 404 page is the digital equivalent of that missing book. The URL they clicked promised a webpage, but instead, they're greeted with a "Page Not Found" message. It's a dead end in their journey, causing them to backtrack or, worse, leave your website altogether.
And search engines?
They're not big fans, either. These errors can negatively impact your SEO by making your site appear unreliable.
Here's an example of a 404-error page on our site. This page would show when someone tries to go to a page that is no longer there, and it was not redirected to a new page. Or perhaps someone typed in the wrong URL with a typo, for example.
Your site likely has a default 404 page that is not designed well. Ensure your default 404 page is helpful and provides people with help to find what they were looking for.
So, how do we fix this?
First, identify these elusive 404 errors. Tools like Google Search Console (a free tool) or other paid SEO Tools can crawl your website, unearthing any pages that are leading users to a dead end.
Once you've hunted down these culprits, it's time to fix them.
You have two main options:
- 1Redirect, or...
Redirect the broken URL (preferably using a 301 permanent redirect) to a relevant live page, guiding your visitors to the right path. Or, if the content was valuable, recreate the page at the original URL.
Remember, every 404-error page is a missed opportunity - a potential customer lost, a frustrating user experience, a dent in your SEO armor. But with vigilance and swift action, you can turn these digital dead ends into pathways to success.
XML Sitemap: Unraveling the Mystery for a Potent SEO Strategy
Imagine your website as an intricate city, and envision the search engine as a curious visitor eager to explore every nook and cranny.
Now, how does that visitor navigate your city without getting lost or missing out on the best spots?
That's where an XML Sitemap enters the scene, serving as a guidebook for your digital metropolis.
An XML Sitemap is like an open invitation to search engines, a detailed roadmap that beckons them to discover, index, and value each page of your website.
Here's an example XML sitemap:
And if you use WordPress, the Yoast plugin automatically creates an XML sitemap for you.
By listing all your site's URLs, it ensures none of your precious content is overlooked, elevating your visibility in the vast digital landscape.
But creating and maintaining an XML Sitemap isn't a one-size-fits-all task.
It requires finesse and an understanding of your website's unique structure.
Best practices to help you craft a compelling sitemap during your redesign:
- 1Keep it Current: Regularly update your sitemap with new pages and remove outdated ones. This keeps search engines abreast of your fresh content, helping your site maintain its relevance and ranking.
- 2Prioritize Essential Pages: Not all pages are created equal. Highlight the most important content in your sitemap to help search engines understand your site's hierarchy.
- 3Avoid Duplication: Ensure every URL in your sitemap leads to unique content. Duplicate URLs can confuse search engines, diluting the impact of your sitemap.
- 4Submit Your Sitemap: Don't wait for search engines to stumble upon your sitemap. Submit it directly to search engine webmaster tools to expedite indexing. Google Search Console provides a section just for submitting your XML sitemap.
Remember, your XML Sitemap is more than just a list of links—it's the key to unlocking your website's full potential in the eyes of search engines. So, wield it wisely during your redesign.
The Importance of Test Site Development
Imagine this: You're about to take the stage for the most important performance of your life. But instead of rehearsing, you decide to wing it. You step onto the stage, the spotlight hits you, and...you stumble. Your lines are forgotten, your timing is off, and the audience is less than impressed.
Now, apply this scenario to your website redesign.
Going live with a new design without any testing is akin to stepping onto the stage unprepared.
SEO missteps, broken links, and perhaps, a dip in your site's rankings.
This is where the magic of a test site comes into play.
A test site, also known as a staging site, is a clone of your live website. It's your very own digital playground, a safe space to experiment, tweak, and perfect your new design before it meets the world.
Why is this crucial, you ask?
A test site allows you to spot and fix any SEO issues BEFORE your new design goes live. Think of it as your dress rehearsal, ensuring that when the curtain lifts, your website performs flawlessly, captivating your audience (and search engines) with its seamless functionality and improved SEO.
Moreover, a test site shields your users from any potential redesign hiccups. Because let's face it, nothing shatters a user's experience quite like a site under construction. With a test site, you can refine every detail behind the scenes, so that your users only see the final masterpiece.
URL Structure: How to Do It Right for New Pages
Have you ever tried to find a particular book in a library without a catalog?
Frustrating, isn't it?
That's what the internet feels like for search engines when your website's URL structure is haphazard. It's like a library with books strewn all over the place.
URL structure refers to how your website's individual pages are organized and displayed. It's like the blueprint of your online property, guiding visitors and search engines alike through the labyrinth of your content.
Here's an example:
Let's suppose you are a personal injury attorney, and you have offices in Houston and Dallas.
On your website, you provide car accident personal injury services in each market, among other services.
An ideal way to represent this URL structure is:
Each of those pages would discuss Houston or Dallas car accidents.
Now if someone backs up the URL, for example, just to /houston-personal-injury-attorney/, they will get the Houston personal injury page. And similar to the Dallas URL.
Organizing your site this way supports good site organization, which is good for users and good for Google.
A Word of Caution on URL Structure
Do not change the URL structure of any existing pages during a website redesign unless there's a very good reason to do so. Doing this can wipe out any current SEO you have for that page.
If you change the URL of an existing page, Google treats this as a new page with no history nor any SEO equity - basically, you're starting from scratch for that page again. Any internal or external links pointing to this page no longer pass SEO equity. But if you feel it's necessary to change the URL of an existing page, implement a redirect (301 permanent redirect) of the old URL to the new URL to help maintain some of the SEO equity.
But for new pages, you can create a better URL structure process that better supports SEO.
Now, you might wonder - why does this matter for SEO?
Well, imagine a librarian trying to locate that book you've requested. If the books are systematically arranged and cataloged, they'll find it in no time.
Similarly, an SEO-friendly URL structure makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site, understand its content, and thereby rank it better.
When redesigning your website, a well-thought-out URL structure is crucial.
It's your chance to clean up old, confusing paths and create a streamlined, intuitive journey for both your users and search engines.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- 1Keep it Simple: The best URLs are those that are easy to read and understand—for humans and search engines. Avoid unnecessary complexity.
- 2Use Keywords Wisely: Incorporate relevant keywords into your URLs, but don’t overdo it. Keyword stuffing can do more harm than good.
- 3Avoid Unnecessary Characters: Steer clear of special characters, symbols, and punctuation that could confuse search engines.
- 4Use Hyphens to Separate Words: Spaces in URLs will show up as '%20' and underscores can be ignored by some search engines. Hyphens are the safest bet.
Embarking on a website redesign is like setting sail on a voyage. Your URL structure is your map.
Craft it wisely, and it will lead you to the treasure trove of improved SEO rankings and increased visibility.
SEO Tools to Use
Imagine setting out on an adventure without a map or compass, trying to navigate the wilderness based on intuition alone. That's what embarking on a website redesign without SEO tools is like—a journey filled with uncertainty and potential missteps.
But fear not, dear reader!
For every challenge in the digital landscape, there's an SEO tool ready to guide you. Let's explore some of the essential ones that can turn your website redesign into a triumphant adventure.
- 1Google Search Console (Free): Think of this as your compass, pointing you in the right direction. It helps you understand how Google's search bots view your site, highlighting any issues that might be hindering your visibility.
- 2Screaming Frog SEO Spider: This tool is akin to a trusty flashlight, revealing hidden obstacles. It crawls your website, uncovering broken links, duplicate content, and other SEO pitfalls that can trip up your redesign.
- 3SEMRush: Consider this your Swiss Army knife of SEO. From tracking keyword rankings to conducting competitive analysis, SEMRush equips you with invaluable insights to strategize your redesign effectively.
- 4Ahrefs: Think of Ahrefs as your trail mix, keeping you nourished and energized. It provides you with detailed backlink profiles and keyword data, fueling your SEO strategy.
Remember, these tools are designed to help you navigate the complex terrain of SEO during a website redesign. They offer insights, identify issues, and provide solutions, ensuring your redesigned website doesn't just look good—it also performs brilliantly in search rankings.
So, gear up, adventurers! With these tools in your backpack, you're well-prepared for the exciting website redesign journey. Onward and upward!
How to Ensure Your Site is Crawled and Indexed by Search Engines
Imagine a world explorer, setting foot on uncharted land, eager to document each discovery for those back home. In the world of SEO, search engines are that explorer, and your website is the new territory.
The process of exploration is known as 'crawling,' and the documentation? That's 'indexing.'
Crawling is when search engines send out digital spiders to traverse your website, following links and gathering data. Indexing, then, is the next step: the search engine stores and organizes the information collected, preparing it for display in search results.
Now, imagine if our explorer couldn't access certain parts of your territory, or worse, didn't even know it existed. This would mean missing out on precious opportunities to be discovered by seekers back home (read: potential customers).
So, how do you ensure your redesigned site is fully crawled and indexed?
- 1Create a Robust XML Sitemap: As we've learned above, an XML Sitemap is a roadmap for search engine spiders. Keep it current and comprehensive to guide them through your entire site.
- 2Use Robots.txt Wisely: This file tells search engines which parts of your site to crawl and which to ignore. Be careful not to accidentally block important pages. And it's quite common to block search engines from crawling a new site while it's under development. However, some people forget to update this setting when the site is launched, which can result in a crash in SEO traffic.
- 3Build Quality Internal Links: These act like signposts, guiding spiders from one page to another. A well-linked site is easier to crawl. (Here's a related post that goes into more detail on internal link building)
- 4Ensure Fast Load Times: Spiders have limited time for each site. If your pages load slowly, they may leave before crawling the entire site. Cheap hosting is often a primary culprit here - hosting companies like Hostgator, Bluehost, and Godaddy are low-end hosting services (I have experienced underperforming sites with all of them). Other issues can be related to image optimization (related post here on optimizing images for SEO), no page caching, and more.
- 5Check for Crawl Errors: Use tools like Google Search Console to identify and fix any issues that might hinder crawling.
Remember, the more thoroughly you're crawled and indexed, the better your chances of ranking in search results. After all, if Google doesn’t know a page exists, it certainly isn’t going to ever be found in a search. So, as you redesign, think like a search engine spider. Make it easy for them to explore, understand, and appreciate your website, and watch as your visibility soars.
How to Improve User Experience and SEO with Your Redesign
Picture this: You walk into a restaurant, enticed by its reputation. But instead of a warm welcome, you're met with chaos. The menu is confusing, the service is slow, and finding the restrooms feels like a treasure hunt.
Would you stay or leave?
Just like that restaurant, your website needs to offer an exceptional User Experience (UX). A site that's easy to navigate, appealing, and intuitive doesn't just win over visitors—it wins over search engines too. Yes, UX and SEO are two sides of the same coin.
So how do we ensure a redesign that enhances UX and boosts SEO?
Here are some tips:
- 1Simplicity is Key: A clutter-free, clean design makes navigation effortless, encouraging users to stay and explore.
- 2Easy Navigation: The internet is a direct response medium. People searching are goal-oriented. Help them achieve their goals by making it easy for them to navigate and find what they want.
- 3Speed it Up: No one likes waiting. Optimize your site's speed to keep both users and search engines happy.
- 4Mobile-Friendly: With more people browsing on smaller screens, a mobile-responsive design isn't optional—it's essential.
Why to Keep Your Blog Posts and Pages in Your SEO Strategy
Imagine your site as a tree.
Your homepage is the trunk, while your blog posts the rest of your content are the branches, each teeming with fresh, ripe fruit for your visitors (and search engines) to feast on.
Blog posts not only provide valuable information, they also present opportunities to use keywords, internal links, and engaging content—all SEO gold. Port over all your content to the new site.
So how can you optimize these posts during a redesign?
- 1Keywords: Identify and use relevant keywords in your posts to help search engines understand your content.
- 2Internal Links: Guide your readers (and search engines) to related content on your site with internal links.
- 3Quality Content: Write engaging, valuable content that keeps readers returning for more.
We've journeyed together through the vast landscape of website redesign, exploring everything from 404 error paWrges to XML Sitemaps, test sites, to blog posts, all with a single goal—boosting your SEO and traffic.
A well-planned redesign isn't just about aesthetics—it's a potent tool that can transform your site's SEO, skyrocket your traffic, and, ultimately, fuel your business growth. It's about creating a site that's not just visually appealing, but also a delight to navigate, both for your users and for search engines.
So, as you embark on your next website redesign project, arm yourself with this checklist. Use it as your compass, guiding you through the twists and turns of the redesign process. And remember, every tick on this checklist brings you one step closer to a site that's not just beautiful, but also powerful—a true force in the digital realm. So, are you ready to transform your website into an SEO powerhouse? Let's get started!